Teasing apart cooperation and collaboration

There have been a couple of recent proposals about the relative role of cooperation and collaboration, and I’m trying to make sense of them.  Here are a couple of different approaches, and my first take at teasing them apart.

Dion Hinchcliffe of Adjuvi tweeted a diagram about different types of working together that shows his take. He has coordination as a subsidiary to cooperation and on to collaboration.  So coordination is when we know what needs to be done, but we can’t do it alone. Cooperation is when we’re doing things that need to have a contribution from each of us, and requires some integration. And collaboration is when we’re working together with a goal but not clear how we’ll get there.  I think what’s core here is how well defined the task is and how much we contribute.

In the meantime, Harold Jarche, my ITA colleague, as a different take.  He sees collaboration as working together to achieve a goal that’s for the organization, whereas cooperation goes beyond.  Cooperation is where we participate and assist one another for our own goals.  It’s contribution that’s uncoupled from any sense of requirement, and is freely given.  I see here the discussion is more about our motives; why are we engaged.

With those two different takes, I see them as different ways of carving up the activities. My initial reaction is closer to Dion’s; I’ve always seen cooperation as willingness to assist when asked, or to provide pointers. To me collaboration is higher; it’s willing to not just provide assistance in clearly defined ways such as pointers to relevant work, answering questions, etc, but to actively roll up sleeves and pitch in.  (Coordination is, to me I guess, a subset of cooperation.) With collaboration I’ve got a vested interest in the outcome, and am willing to help frame the question, do independent research, iterate, and persist to achieve the outcome.

I see the issue of motivation or goal as a different thing. I can cooperate in a company-directed manner, as expected, but I also can (and do) cooperate in a broader sense; when people ask for help (my principles are simple: talk ideas for free; help someone personally for dinner/drinks; if someone’s making a quid  I get a cut), I will try to assist (with the Least Assistance Principle in mind).  I can also collaborate on mutual goals (whether ITA projects or client work), but then I can also collaborate on things that have no immediate outcome except to improve the industry as a whole (*cough* Serious eLearning Manifesto *cough*).

So I see two independent dimensions: one on the effort invested, just responding to need or actively contributing; and the other on the motivation, whether for a structured goal or for the greater good.

Now I have no belief that either of them will necessarily agree with my take, but I’d like to reconcile these interpretations for the overall understanding (or at least my own!).  That’s my first take, feedback welcome!

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